23 August 2011
Professor Lars Chittka and Dr Mathieu Lihoreau from SBCS have found that despite “having a brain the size of a poppy seed”, bees can “solve a fiendish navigational problem that modern super computers struggle to crack”. Professor Chittka and Dr Lihoreau, who is now at the University of Sydney in Australia, gave eight bumblebees six artificial flowers. They let each bee explore the flowers 80 times, and recorded the routes they took. Over the course of the trials the bees halved the distance they flew from 65 to 38 metres. After about 26 trips, they had selected an optimal route. It is likely that they are trying to fly in straight lines as much as possible, which would naturally lead them to take a roughly circular route around the flower field, rather than zig-zagging around in the centre.
This story has been reported in New Scientist.